Using ROI to Spell Out the Importance of Stewardship

*This post originally appeared on grantprofessionalsassociation.org on October 30, 2017

Looking back to the start of my grants journey, I remember how determined I was to perfect the art of developing a foolproof proposal. I spent countless hours reading books and sample materials, as well as attending workshops and webinars.  What I did not spend as much time studying, but have since learned through experience, was my obligation to the relationship. 

Stewardship is the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to our care. I cannot think of a better definition that speaks to the core of our duty as grant professionals. As members of the development team, our organizations entrust us with their most valuable asset … their donors.   

We invest considerable time in prospecting (and hopefully cultivating) foundations and their representatives before we even get to the point of submitting a proposal, but what is of equal, and perhaps even greater importance is what we do (or do not do) after the outcome of the ask. 

We can look to various disciplines of fundraising to provide proof of the value of stewardship. From major gifts, planned giving to volunteers, stewardship is the key ingredient of engagement and retention. And knowing that new donor acquisition is far more costly than keeping the supporters you have, you truly cannot afford to pass on good stewardship practices. 

Flip your perspective for a moment and think about how you would like to be shown gratitude as a donor. Recall a time when you went out of your way for someone and were never thanked for it. How did that experience make you feel? Now think about how you may have felt if they had taken the time to tell you how much your kindness had impacted them. See the difference? That's stewardship.  

So how do we consciously show appreciation in ways that feel genuine?  The answer, while it may seem counterintuitive, is to develop a calculated stewardship strategy. 

In addition to expressing thanks for the grant and taking care of reporting requirements, there are plenty of ways we can build a communication plan for foundation contacts.  What is your organization already doing that you can piggyback on, such as annual/mid-year reports or program updates? Can you personalize holiday cards? Are stories shared on a website, newsletter, or internal communication that you can pass along to demonstrate impact? You can see how these items are already adding up, so you might want to create a schedule. It can be as simple or complex as you choose but do not let those great ideas become missed opportunities by failing to plan.

Sample stewardship calendar (and no, you do not have to fill in every month):

  • January – annual report w/ short note
  • February – grant interim report and annual event invitation
  • April – Spring stewardship touch; connect story to their support
  • May – thank you/update/engagement calls
  • July – mid-year donor report; personalized
  • September – grant final report w/ impact story
  • November/December – personalized holiday cards

Find ways to take advantage of technology and bulk mailings, but recognize that no one wants to feel like a task you are checking off, so personalize where you can and always respect contact preferences. 

Being sincere and making someone feel appreciated is almost always remembered.  And do not forget to keep inviting them to the party! Like any friend or family member, welcome them, again and again, to converse and engage. Relationships grow if nurtured, so do not leave it up to chance.

In what ways are you currently meeting your donors' needs?  
Can you pinpoint gaps to improve and elevate those relationships?  
If so, how do you envision your priorities and outcomes changing? (hint: ROI) 

About the Author

Jamie Healy

Jamie Healy, MS is the Senior Grant Writer of Foundation Partnerships for Best Friends Animal Society, a national animal welfare organization dedicated to bringing about a time when there are No More Homeless Pets. She is a member of GPA, serves on the SC Chapter of the GPA, a local grant professional networking group, and the fundraising committee for the Character Restoration Initiative at Allendale Correctional Facility.

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